Santa Fe Pro Musica
The Santa Fe Pro Musica Orchestra is embarked on multi-year search for the person who will replace Thomas O’Connor as music director when he retires a couple of years hence. The appearances of guest conductors overseeing many of the group’s concerts this season are the public portion of their job interviews, and their work will therefore carry considerable consequence.
Last weekend’s program at the Lensic Performing Arts Center was entrusted to Ruth Reinhardt, who has most recently served as assistant conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. An assistant conductorship is a common career step for young conductors, providing opportunities to observe seasoned practitioners close-up, to step in during emergencies, and to lead occasional performances themselves — often youth or community concerts, sometimes a full subscription week. Reinhardt’s conducting here suggested that she is on just the track she should be, but that she is probably not ready for a full music directorship of her own.
Her program of Mendelssohn chestnuts — the E-minor Violin Concerto, and Symphony — did not present great technical difficulties, but the concert suffered from rough edges all the same. Reinhardt apparently spent the available rehearsal time plotting ideas about the phrasing of melodies. That is a good thing in principle, but the interpretations ended up being about the trees rather than the forest. The was intriguing at its opening, unusually slow, with a mysterious, aquatic character; but before long Scotland’s shores were beset by quicksand. Orchestral balances were often out of whack; fortunately, excellent solo work from clarinetist Michael Anderson shone through.
The Symphony was similarly muddy, with winds and strings rarely melding felicitously. The trumpet section, which had performed poorly in the now played worse. That is not Reinhardt’s fault, but her job was to make the best she could of the ensemble she faced. One would have expected her to rein in those players as much as possible to disguise shortcomings, and that she did not do. Numerous bumpy entrances — and some out-and-out erroneous ones — marred this middle-of-the-road interpretation. Such things might have been avoided through more distinct baton technique. In fact, I did not entirely understand why Reinhardt uses a baton; she limits its activity mostly to the bulb end, where she grips it, sacrificing the potential expressiveness of the baton’s tip. She tends to dance on the podium, bobbing at the knees, almost conducting with the torso as much as with the hands — not a path to precision.
The soloist in the E-minor Violin Concerto was Ariel Horowitz, who graduated from The Juilliard School in 2017 and is now pursuing graduate studies at the Yale School of Music. Again, it was a case of an accomplished musician with ample room for development. Her timbre was attractive and she had the concerto’s notes well in hand. Inaccuracies of intonation in the upper register, particularly when approached through rising arpeggios, require urgent attention. The Mendelssohn concerto is a marvel — no doubt about it — but one of its challenges is that it can easily appear glib. Horowitz reveled in the smoothness of its surface, but her interpretation might have made greater impact if she had attacked some of its details with more gusto, if she had found opportunities to rough it up a bit. As it was, the piece came across as pleasant but conveyed little emotional character. She was not helped by some uncertain coordination with the orchestra, particularly at the opening of the third movement. — James M. Keller